The Different Types of Polyurethane Finishes


Hardwood finishes protect your hardwood from stains, scratches and water damage. They also add color and luster to your flooring as a decorative feature. If you’re considering installing or refinishing your hardwood flooring, explore the most popular types of finishes with Blue Ridge Floors.


Oil- vs. Water-Based Hardwood Finishes

The most common finish is polyurethane, or poly. This liquid can be oil- or water-based, and there are pros and cons for each type. Ask about each in regards to your personal flooring before you make a decision.


In general, oil-based poly creates a slightly yellow look, particularly with ash, fir, pine or other hardwoods. This look tends to increase over time, making aged oil-based poly quite yellow. The main benefit of oil-based poly, however, is that it is less expensive than a water-based alternative.


Oil-based finishes also tend to last longer. This thicker, more durable option can take fewer coats and last for longer as it protects your hardwood from spills, scratches and everyday wear. If you don’t mind the change in coloring over time, it’s a great option for your floors.


Choose water-based hardwood finish to enjoy low VOCs, quick drying times and a clear-coat look. Water-based polyurethane is thinner than oil-based, so you may need to wait to apply an additional coat to receive the same protection. Due to the reduced drying time, this is possible in less time than a fully coated oil-based finish.


Low VOCs mean that water-based hardwood flooring requires less application and drying time. These fumes can be dangerous if inhaled, so you need to wait some time after application until they’re fully cleared away. Both types of poly have VOCs, but the amount present in a water-based poly is much less than an oil-based one.


High-Gloss Polyurethane

Once you decide between oil- and water-based poly, it’s time to select a sheen level. Also known as luster, the sheen describes the way light reflects off the flooring. High gloss is the highest sheen level, which means it appears to be highly reflective.


This makes it more difficult to maintain, particularly in high-traffic areas. Consider a high-gloss finish if you want to enhance the beauty of your flooring and highlight the grain structure. This is common for trim pieces and exotic hardwood options.


Semi-Gloss Polyurethane

A slight step down on the sheen level, semi-gloss is more popular for traditional hardwood species. High gloss works well for exotic wood options, but semi-gloss is usually a high enough sheen for most homeowners.


Choose this poly if you love a highly polished look. However, you can expect more visible scratches and imperfections, so consider a lower sheen if you have small children or pets. Semi-gloss doesn’t require as much maintenance as a high-gloss finish but does require more upkeep than the other two poly options.


Satin Polyurethane

Consider a trending polyurethane option with a satin sheen level. For most homeowners, this poly offers the perfect balance of convenience and beauty. Satin offers a medium-to-low luster, which hides imperfections and scratches better than a glossy alternative.


It still has some sheen to highlight the grain beauty in your hardwood flooring. Unlike matte poly, a satin finish gives a low-level shine that appears more natural and long-lasting.


Matte Polyurethane

Avoid sheen and light reflection altogether with a matte finish. While gloss finishes come with maintenance considerations, the choice between satin and matte hardwood finish is primarily an aesthetic one.


Look for a matte poly flooring sample to see how you feel about this ultra-low sheen option. Some homeowners instantly fall in love with it, while others prefer satin finishes.


Learn More About Types of Finishes With Blue Ridge Floors

Remember that the sheen level you choose doesn’t affect the longevity of your finish. While a high-gloss floor may show dents and imperfects sooner than a matte finish, it doesn’t offer less protection. Oil- and water-based finishes, however, do have differing lifespans along with the other pros and cons.


If you’re feeling overwhelmed with hardwood staining choices, then turn to Blue Ridge Floors. We offer free flooring estimates to help you price out the different options. Compare options in person or speak with a talented flooring expert to find the ideal finishing solution for the timeless hardwood floors in your home.


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